#SPFBO Review : Subversive (Clandestine Magic #1) by Colleen Cowley

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Stage 1 of the SPFBO competition is nearly complete and team LB=TC(Lynnsbooks and the Critiquing Chemist) will be posting final reviews for the semi finalists before making a finalist announcement this forthcoming Saturday.  This week I am therefore aiming to post my thoughts on the three SF’s put forward by my teammates.

Subversive

Today I will be reviewing Subversive (Clandestine Magic #1) by Colleen Cowley.

With only one or two issues I found Subversive to be a very easy to read and enjoyable story.  It has an alternate history feel and blends romance and magic in a very entertaining way.

As the story begins we meet our two central characters and learn swiftly that this world is quite different from ours.  Magic is a very real element to the story and only being wielded by men has quite changed the shape of the world as we know it.  Female emancipation has been much slower and women are in fact second class citizens.  We meet Beatrix Harper as she is strong armed into working for the local, newly returned to town, wizard, Peter Blackwell and this gives us an immediate idea of the power that such magic users wield.  Peter has returned to his hometown under something of a dark cloud.  He keeps his purpose secret but the agency he has left behind are on his trail and keeping him under observation.  Meanwhile Beatrix plays a role in the League for the Prohibition of Magic.  Her younger sister is rallying the cause and things are reaching a climax and this element of secrecy from both characters helps to create a lovely confusion between the two as they suspect each other of all kinds of wrong doing.

Peter and Beatrix already knew each other.  Peter was the only boy in town with magical ability and left many years ago to be trained.  Beatrix became responsible for bringing up her younger sister Lydia after their parents died, effectively putting aside her own ambitions in order to earn money and send her sister to college. Lydia has now become a strong voice in the movement and the magic community are starting to take notice of her – which is potentially dangerous.

This brings us to the world building which is one of the issues that I had with the story.  As I was reading this I was picturing the time as early 1900s in my head and so I was very confused when it became apparent that this was much closer to the current period.  Okay, to be fair. I understand that the author was trying to create the whole idea of women being kept back from achieving things  due to their lack of magic but I think in some respects I would have preferred to not have the more modern elements of the story – they felt perplexing to me, but that is clearly a personal preference.  This also brings me to the other issue I had.  I found it a little difficult to get on board (and there is a slight spoiler ahead so avert your eyes now if you don’t wish to read it) with the fact that women had never discovered their own magical ability and that this was a secret that the Government were aware of and kept tight control over.  Surely, purely by accident, over the course of time, women would have made this connection?  Anyway, those were my two little niggles that kept chirping at the back of my head when I was reading.  But, and I would state this in the strongest terms – neither of these issues stopped me from enjoying Subversive or reading it at an obscenely fast pace!

I really enjoyed the writing and the sexual tension that Cowley manages to achieve between the two central characters.  They definitely have a love/hate relationship that makes for some very funny scenes between the two and although there is an element of this that comes about through a magical contract which takes us into the area of being compelled unwillingly I actually thought the two were destined for each other regardless of the pacts they signed up to.  

I also liked the characters.  I think Beatrix and Peter came across really well, I liked that the author showed the darker side to both, the way they mistrusted each other and went down the wrong path in terms of their suspicions.  I thought Beatrix was well drawn. It would have been easy for her to come across as a bit too ‘good to be true’ so the fact that she at times felt resentment towards her sister, who seemed to be achieving everything her heart desired while Beatrix remained in the background, made her feel flawed and much more real as a result.

The magic system was well imagined.  The magic itself has to be learned, potions are drawn up with strict rules about measurements and quantities and the magic itself is fuelled by leaves.  This felt really unique and the fact that there are alternative methods of fuelling magic, that have been kept secret, was also a really intriguing aspect to the story with sinister undertones that I think will be explored in future instalments.

On the whole I found subversive to be a very enjoyable fantasy romance. I think Cowley has managed to blend the fantasy elements into the story in a really clever way that don’t feel like they’ve been tacked on simply to appeal to a certain audience but are firmly rooted elements of the story.  I would certainly like to read more from this world and see what these two characters manage to achieve next.

My thanks to the author for providing a copy for review.  The above is my own opinion.